My sister is one of the 40 million Americans who suffer from allergies and asthma. One of her biggest allergies is to horses, which isn’t a problem most of the time considering she lives in the city. However, at Thanksgiving, we visit my aunt in Walla Walla. She owns horses and, although my aunt has an impeccably clean house, my sister still ends up stuffy and sneezy (and has a lifetime of family holiday photos with a red runny nose).
If you or your loved ones suffer from allergies like my sister does, you may indeed feel allergic to the holidays. Avoid a collection of red-nosed family holiday portraits by following these tips from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).
- Opt for Natural Aromas: While pumpkin, gingerbread and pine-scented air fresheners can be inviting for guests, they can also be hazardous. About one-third of people with asthma report health problems from air fresheners, which contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Studies show VOC exposure even below accepted levels can increase the risk of asthma in children. Open the windows to air out the house, or let the scents from the oven provide natural aromas.
- Beware the Thanksgiving Effect: Even if you’ve become tolerant of your cat or dog, you may find yourself sneezing and wheezing when you return after visiting relatives for the holidays. This flare-up of pet allergies is called the Thanksgiving Effect.
- Feast Cautiously: If you have food allergies, food allergens can show up in the strangest places – soy in mock caviar, peanuts in pie crust, shellfish in stuffing – so be cautious about piling up your plate during the holidays. Even turkey can be a landmine. Allergens in stuffing can be absorbed into the meat, so trying cooking your bird unstuffed. You also may want to stick to a natural turkey, which contains only turkey and water, since self-basting turkeys can contain soy, wheat and dairy.
- Avoid the Gift of Sneeze: Exchanging gifts with allergic friends can be tricky. Nickel, a common cause of contact dermatitis, can be found in earrings, necklaces and watches; candy may include nuts or other allergens; and perfume and other items with strong scents can cause some people to break out in a rash. Instead, consider gifts such as dessert plates, wine glasses and books.
- Be Selective with Décor: Everyone loves a festive house, but watch out, hidden allergens can lurk in the decorations. Last year’s decorations may be dusty – as in full of allergy-triggering dust mites – if you didn’t store them in airtight containers. Some people are allergic to terpene found in the sap of Christmas trees, or are bothered by the mold that lurks on the trees. Consider artificial trees, wreaths and garland. Also watch out for poinsettias, which are problematic for people with latex allergies since the plant is part of the rubber tree family.
Since we’re on the subject of allergies, I should mention VM’s Asthma and Allergy Clinic is sponsoring a food drive in honor of Lynn Collins, RN, a team member who passed away last summer. From Nov. 26 to Dec. 14, please consider bringing shelf-stable foods for the Northwest Harvest collection bin at the clinic, located at Virginia Mason’s Seattle Main Campus on Level 1 of Lindeman Pavilion.
(Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, “Five Tips for Sneeze and Wheeze-Free Holidays” press release.)